Sun and Steel - by Yukio Mishima

What I was seeking, in short, was a language of the body. If my self was my dwelling, then my body resembled an orchard that surrounded it. I could either cultivate that orchard to its capacity or leave it for the weeds to run riot in. I was free to choose, but the freedom was not as obvious as it might seem. Many people, indeed, go so far as to refer to the orchards of their dwellings as “destiny.” One day, it occurred to me to set about cultivating my orchard for all I was worth. For my purpose, I used sun and steel. Unceasing sunlight and implements fashioned of steel became the chief elements in my husbandry. Little by little, the orchard began to bear fruit, and thoughts of the body came to occupy a large part of my consciousness.

The groups of muscles that have become virtually unnecessary in modern life, though still a vital element of a man’s body, are obviously pointless from a practical point of view, and bulging muscles are as unnecessary as a classical education is to the majority of practical men. Muscles have gradually become something akin to classical Greek. To revive the dead language, the discipline of the steel was required; to change the silence of death into the eloquence of life, the aid of steel was essential.

The steel faithfully taught me the correspondence between the spirit and the body: thus feeble emotions, it seemed to me, corresponded to flaccid muscles, sentimentality to a sagging stomach, and overimpressionability to an oversensitive, white skin. Bulging muscles, a taut stomach, and a tough skin, I reasoned, would correspond respectively to an intrepid fighting spirit, the power of dispassionate intellectual judgement, and a robust disposition. I hasten to point out here that I do not believe ordinary people to be like this. Even my own scanty experience is enough to furnish me with innumerable examples of timid minds encased within bulging muscles. Yet, as I have already pointed out, words for me came before the flesh, so that intrepidity, dispassionateness, robustness, and all those emblems of moral character summed up by words, needed to manifest themselves in outward, bodily tokens. For that reason, I told myself, I ought to endow myself with the physical characteristics in question as a kind of educative process.

The formulation of any new way of thought begins with the trial rephrasing in many different ways of a single, as yet ambiguous theme. As the fisherman tries all kinds of rods, and the fencer all kinds of bamboo swords until he finds one whose length and weight suit him, so, in the formulation of a way of thinking, an as yet imprecise idea is given experimental expression in a variety of forms; only when the right measurements and weight are discovered does it become part of oneself.

I felt, I was gaining a clue to an inner understanding of the cult of the hero. The cynicism that regards all hero worship as comical is always shadowed by a sense of physical inferiority. Invariably, it is the man who believes himself to be physically lacking in heroic attributes who speaks mockingly of the hero; and when he does so, how dishonest it is that his phraseology, partaking ostensibly of a logic so universal and general, should not (or at least should be assumed by the general public not to) give any clue to his physical characteristics. I have yet to hear hero worship mocked by a man endowed with what might justly be called heroic physical attributes. Facile cynicism, invariably, is related to feeble muscles or obesity, while the cult of the hero and a mighty nihilism are always related to a mighty body and well-tempered muscles. For the cult of the hero is, ultimately, the basic principle of the body, and in the long run is intimately involved with the contrast between the robustness of the body and the destruction that is death.

I was in no sense a military man myself. The army is a profession that requires a great deal of technique. As I saw and noted well for myself, it demands, more than any other profession, a long period of careful training. In order not to lose the techniques once they are acquired, constant and unrelaxing practice is necessary, much as a pianist must practice every day in order not to lose his delicacy of touch. Nothing gives the armed forces so much attraction as the fact that even the most trivial duty is ultimately an emanation of something far loftier and more glorious, and is linked, somewhere, with the idea of death. The man of letters, on the other hand, must scratch together his own glory from the rubbish within himself, already overfamiliar in every detail, and refurbish it for the public eye. Two different voices constantly call to us. One comes from within, the other from without. The one from without is one’s daily duty. If the part of the mind that responded to duty corresponded exactly with the voice from within, then one would indeed be supremely happy.